OKTOY Blog: How do you measure success?

“Trying to do your best, learning about your limits, and then trying to extend them—this is the proper perspective for a leader to have. As teachers and coaches, we should remember that when mere winning is our goal, we are doomed to disappointment and failure. But when our goal is to try to do our best, when our focus is on preparation and sacrifice and effort—instead of on numbers on the scoreboard—we will never lose.” –Coach Mike Krzyzewski, Duke University Basketball

In the education world today it seems that just about everything we do is quantified with a number and measured against a pre-determined scale. Because of this “quantifying” I feel we have lost sight of the uniqueness of the individual and replaced it with the idea that everyone can and will become a champion. This champion mindset has a flaw: in a race there is only one champion.

In my experience asking all students to achieve at the same level, or “become champions,” in an Algebra 2 course can be likened to saying that all of my athletes can and will run a four-minute mile if trained properly. Anyone who has spent some time in this profession will understand what I mean when I say that I do believe every child can learn, but I do not believe that every child can achieve the same level.

David Epstein writes in his book, The Sports Gene, “Sport skill acquisition does not happen without both specific genes and specific environment, and often the genes and the environment must coincide at a specific time.” In essence, not everyone is destined to be a world champion sprinter.

Likewise I believe that not all math students are destined to be engineers. We work in the people business. We train up young people, not machines. I know as a coach that not all of my athletes are going to be state champions. Most of them know it too. Does that keep them from striving for the very best of themselves? No.

Year after year I have runners on my team improve their 5k time by more than five minutes. These are back-of-the-pack to middle-pack athletes. They understand their limitations, but I am just as proud of their accomplishments, if not more so, as I am of my athletes who win. They are true examples of striving for the best of themselves. When an athlete or a student achieves growth, that is when we as educators are successful.

The effects of losing sight of the individual are debilitating to our students and to our teachers. Some of our students are not endowed with great skill, yet they are expected to perform to the same standard as someone who has a much greater endowment. This can be very frustrating for our students, and leaves them labeled as a failure and with a clouded perspective on what true learning should be. The students become more concerned with hitting the mark instead of actual learning and finding satisfaction in growth. To them, it doesn’t matter how far they have grown if they are still not able to meet the mark. They see all their hard work and effort as wasted and are therefore less likely to put forth the same effort down the road.

In no way am I saying that we don’t need more rigorous standards or that assessments are all bad. I am saying that we need a more realistic way of assessing success instead of the one-size-fits-all model we currently utilize. Like my athletes who show vast improvements over the season yet never see a state competition or the third grade student who went from not being able to read to reading on a second grade level, they too deserve recognition for a job well done even though they did not “make the grade.” Students should not be held accountable to reach a pre-set level of performance while progress from the beginning to the end of the year is overlooked.

By: Jason Proctor
2015 Oklahoma State Teacher of the Year




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Last updated on February 12, 2015